In 2005, overweight and obese Australian adults cost the Australian economy $21 billion in direct health care and direct non-health care costs, plus an additional $35.6 billion in government subsidies, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Prof Stephen Colagiuri, Professor of Metabolic Health at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise, University of Sydney, and his co-authors analysed data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, collected in 1999-2000 and 2004-2005.
"We found that the direct cost of overweight and obesity in Australia is significantly higher than previous estimates. As the number of overweight and obese adult Australians continues to increase, the direct cost of overweight and obesity will also continue to rise," Prof Colagiuri said.
Of 6140 survey participants (54.1 per cent female; mean age 56.5 years), 42.9 per cent were defined as obese, 32.4 per cent as overweight, and 24.7 per cent as normal weight, based on their body mass index (BMI) and/or waist circumference.
Direct health care costs included ambulatory services, hospitalisation, prescription medication and some medically related consumables, such as blood glucose self-monitoring meters and strips. Direct non-health care costs included transport to hospital, supported accommodation and special food. Government subsidies included payments for aged, disability and veteran pensions, mobility and sickness allowances and unemployment benefit.
Using weight categories defined only by BMI, the mean annual total direct health care and non-health care cost per person was $1710 for those of normal weight, $2110 for the overweight and $2540 for the obese. The average annual cost of government subsidies per person was $3737 for the overweight and $4153 for the obese, compared with $2948 for people of normal weight.
"Traditionally, studies report only costs associated with obesity and rarely take overweight into account. However, overweight is associated with an increased risk of many comorbidities that increase health care costs," Prof Colagiuri said.
"There is financial incentive at both individual and societal levels for overweight and obese people to lose weight and/or reduce waist circumference."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.